Workshop on Lean-based approach to product design open to WNY professionals

Workshop participants gather around a computer.

Participants of a past Lean Product Design Workshop work through a LEGO-building activity. 

By Tracy Puckett

Release Date: July 5, 2016

The workshop is ideal for professionals involved in the design of manufactured products, but other professionals can benefit from the session too.

BUFFALO, N.Y. — Bicycle mechanics Wilbur and Orville Wright defied scientific heavyweights by developing the first successful powered airplane. They strayed from the path of their contemporaries, who so often met life-ending consequences as a result of focusing on one idea, building a prototype, and testing it.

The differentiator was investing in research and experimentation. And though they may not have realized it, their approach employed staples of the Lean methodology of waste reduction.

Fundamental aspects of the brothers’ design process are still in use today, and will be presented during the Lean Product Design Workshop on July 21 by the University at Buffalo (UB) Center for Industrial Effectiveness (TCIE). The half-day session is part lecture, part LEGO-building competition, and is open to Western New York professionals.

Before diving into the Wright-inspired way, attendees will be exposed to shortcomings of a common approach used by companies today: the point-based technique of rushing to a solution, testing it, realizing it doesn’t work and making tweaks.   

Set-based concurrent engineering, on the other hand, examines all possibilities to deduce a number of optimal options.  

Beth Kelm, a General Motors Powertrain Tonawanda Engine Plant core team leader, is abandoning the practice of relying on one thought process after attending a previous Lean Product Design Workshop session.

“We tend to see one thing in sight and put our blinders on,” Kelm said, speaking of human nature in general.

The workshop encouraged her to adjust her thinking and provided greater coaching confidence. In her role that regularly requires problem solving with company leaders, she is asking more questions such as: Did you think about this? Did you talk about this to so and so, and determine how that will impact them?

The workshop is most ideal for professionals involved in the design of manufactured products. However, instructor Peter Baumgartner does not discount the benefits that other professionals may gain from the session.

“People who produce information or other services — like those in health care or finance — are designing processes,” said Baumgartner, TCIE director of operational excellence. “Translation of concepts will take a little more work for them, but the theory will still be the same.”

Attendees of the workshop should expect to learn a method that has perks for anyone involved in the design process, whether culminating in a product or service.

“Usually when using the set-based methodology, you are reusing knowledge you already have. So you’re able to reach your design much quicker than if you were working from scratch,” Baumgartner said. “There are fewer changes in your design, which means that costs are down. Your time to market is less, which then enhances your competitive advantage in the marketplace.”

Register here for the Lean Product Design Workshop by July 14. For more information, contact TCIE Training Program Coordinator Mariah Glass at 716-645-8840 or

TCIE is Western New York's bridge to excellence; it provides a dynamic link between UB’s expert resources and the region’s business community. Its core focus on engineering solutions and operational excellence drives continual improvements, and ignites innovation and technological advantages. For more information on how TCIE can assist Western New York businesses, visit or call 716-645-8800.

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